Working lives review: Arts as mental health therapy

Whether You Fall

Holloway Odeon



Using the arts to aid recovery from mental illness is nothing new, but it is still a brave move to take the results and put them on show – particularly when there is a focus on personal issues. But that is exactly what the residents of St Martins of Tours, a residential mental health centre in north London, have done with this selection of three short films.

Take the first film, The Legend of Jason Tristan, by Oliver Bowes. The focus is on Bowes’s face for lengthy shots, which is a difficult position to be comfortable with, but it helps the viewer see what he is thinking. The plot of the film, following what happens to the eponymous character after the death of his father, is clearly personal.

The same was evident in the second film, The Escape, by Isaac Batchelor. The screening was followed by a heartfelt speech by Batchelor about how inspirational it had been to create something.

The last and longest film is a composite piece by the other residents of St Martins, Whether You Fall, which lent its name to the showcase. It is perhaps clearest here how much help the films can provide for a person’s self-confidence. There’s a difference between those who have made a brief contribution and those who have invested their time creating something, be it a film, poem or series of photos, and benefited from it.

That is not to give the impression that this is just a form of therapy that has been put on public display – there are glimpses of potent talent. Sasha, who has now moved on from St Martins, delivers a powerful poetry performance about a girl he once knew called Kerry. It isn’t clear whether this is a true story or a fictional one, but it doesn’t really matter – the performers “spat out” the words more pointedly than many professional spoken-word artists.

But the focus here is what the film-screening means to the filmmakers. Ibi Vaughan, the creator of the project who helped to bring their work out of a residential unit and into a high-street cinema, originally started working at St Martins to help the residents to write poetry.

However, most residents were interested in film, so the project switched to a new medium. The result is clear: talking with the filmmakers afterwards, Bowes and Batchelor are invigorated by having their work on show and talk enthusiastically about their plans for the future.

The films have proven to be an effective part of recovery. The artistic merit that can be gleaned from it is a bonus.

To see some of the films go to St Martin of Tours Create website

This article appears in the 20 November issue under the headline “The art of recovery”

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